Wednesday, September 26, 2012

After The Rain

After three or four days of on and off rain
I step into the gloomy night to dormouse wise 
Feed my head and take the dog to walk; 
So as to not embarrass his doggy self, 
And damage the carpets, to relieve himself.

Like many small bits of paper, or plastic bags
That are caught up the wind and forced to dance
In wild Matisse lines of random arabesque 
Across the land; like the trees which bend and bow
To the strong winds, or walkers who are bent over
To fight pedestrian the blurting blasting gales. 
So to it seems as if mighty Orion is caught up 
And sent tumbling cartwheeling (caterwauling?) 
By the windy roaring insensate fourties
Across the night, one arm outstretched, 
His hand on the top of hill, pushing off. 

In the morning I organise my young daughter.
Back to school after holidays. I struggle
To wake and get myself into the groove,
Back into the beat after a lazy fortnight.
Make her breakfast, and serve it to her.
And while she chatterboxes away
Anticipating her new day at school,
I listen and make her lunch, spreading peanut 
Butter across the bread. A piece of fruit,
A little tub of yoghurt, home made cookies. 
I wash her face and hands, get her dressed.
As she watches Sesame Street, I dress myself.

And we leave the house, opening the door, 
Flooding the lounge room with the streaming
Sun, the excited, twittering songs of birds.
The rains are over, the water tank is full 
To overflowing, two, three snails crawl
The potted plants the porch. The wind 
Has blown away the wet spongy clouds.
There is and optimism is on the rise. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Honk to Dump the Dump!

On Tuesday Sept 18 I went down to Sorell Council Chambers. It was the monthly Council meeting, and some of the opponents of the Carlton River Dump went to question our Council members.

Apparently the gallery for the public is not very large, and was standing room only by the time I arrived. Being not very confident that much would come from talking to the council, I was only to happy to stand on the street corner outside the council building holding signs and having a little demo.

Was this the first ever demonstration in front of Sorell Council Chambers? None of the locals was able to recall another such event.

Early spring darkness, single figure temperatures and a light drizzle did not to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd that stood and held up signs. As always this demonstration was light and fun and full of chatting and jokes and fun. These feeling of fun and lightness, of being with others is what Lenin meant when he spoke of the 'joy of the festival of the oppressed.' Too often we are made to feel isolated and impotent in our dealings with the various levels of governments and seemingly untouchable large corporations. While not being able to stop the dump by itself this small demonstration allowed us to feel something of the strength that well organised, committed community.

Holding up signs that read 'Honk to Dump the Dump', every honk of the cars and trucks, windshield wipers slapping time, that drove past was met with rousing cheers and laughter. Not ever car that passed beeped, but enough did so that the cold and dark and drizzle could not put an end to the protest. Many of the crowd dressed in white hazardous material outfits, to draw attention to the dangers of the Carlton River Dump.

As I said I was not actually at the Council meeting, and this is second hand information. But as it seems balanced, and I heard similar comments from other people who attended I am happy, until the minutes are published, to assume that this description of the meeting is, in the main, a true account of what happened.

At the meeting of the Sorell Council differences of opinion were brought to the fore, with one councillor saying they had voted against the position, and had the foresight to see the reaction and the community opposition. Another member said that they regretted their vote and expressed concern that there was not enough time to fully understand the issues. Happily the council saw that they did not handle community consultation properly. While directly caused by this dump issue, it is good to see that the Sorell Council is organising a series of 'community consultations' starting this Thursday Sept 20 at the Midway Point Community Centre.

But in the end, according to locals who were in the chambers, it seems the council will not rethink their position and are holding the position that, once the permit has been issued their is nothing that can be done. Surely this is a sad position for a democratically elected council to hold.

During the Pelopensian War the city of Mytilene attempted to leave the Athenian Empire and unify all of the island of Lesbos under Mytilenean control. Scorning the attempts of the delegation to reach a negotiated peace, the Athenian Assembly voted for punishment, to kill all the males in the city. After a good night's sleep the people of Athens recalled the assembly and voted to overturn this brutal edict. If in the midst of a seemingly endless war, a devastating plague, the collapse of the rural economy, if in the middle of an existential crisis of this sort, democracy can right it's wrongs, surely the Sorell Council can overturn this dump, or at least allow the permits to lapse. Seeing how the council helped set up Southern Waste Services, and therefore by extension the rate payers of Sorell Council are part owners of the company.

Until then the locals must organise themselves using both science and rhetoric, as well as their own talent, commitment and resources to fight against this toxic proposal.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Consultation Not Spin.

I will start with a quote from the Mercury On Sept 12, the article was put up on their website at 12:01 on the 12th, fully 19 hours before the public meeting which was to be held at Copping Hall. The article
has the punning and refreshingly realistic title A Waste of a Protest

"Proponents of the Copping waste dump say protesters have "zero" chance of stopping the controversial project going ahead. This is despite Southern Waste Solutions agreeing to a month of consultation
with residents."

On the same day I saw a brief interview with the Mayor of Sorell, Carmel Torenius, where she was wondering why the locals can not just listen to and trust the experts. This gets to the heart of the problem
for the council and the SWS, trust has been broken. The social contract that we implicitly enter into with governments has been if not broken, at least bent out of shape. The consultation was not a free and frank discussion with the citizens to come to an agreement before a course of action. From my point of view one can argue that it was the experts who gave us the Iraqi War, who gave us the nuclear accident at Fukushima. People on the other side of politics as myself would be able to say something like, it was the experts who gave us the Carbon Price, the MRRT. Experts, while of course useful and expert in their fields are not the people who actually have to live the decisions.

So with these words in my mind and no great expectation in my heart I went along to the meeting at Copping Hall.  A functional little building just off the Arthur Highway on the road to Marion Bay. The plain walls of the wooden hall were decorated with pennants of cricket winning team, and the obligatory, sorrowful memorial plaque to the dead of the Great War.

If Churchill described the Soviet Union as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside and enigma, this meeting can surely be described as a pretence wrapped in a sham inside a facade.

The permits already have been issued to Southern Waste Services. With no support from the local government, and no support for the residents of the Carlton River Catchment coming from the State Government the purpose of the meeting was a face saving exercise for SWS. What wasthe point of the meeting? It seems no more than a scene from Tom Wolfe's essay Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, that is a chance to let some locals vent their anger in a safe manner, while people who  can not change the situation  catch the flak of the public.

But let us digress for a moment and look at this word consultation. It comes from a Latin word consulatare, and for the Latins this word meant pretty much the same as our usage of the word. To consult, to take the advice of. More exactly my dictionary defined consult as: Have discussions or confer with (someone), typically before undertaking a course of action. This lead me to question the use of the word discussion. And again looking at the dictionary I found this: The action or process of talking about something, typically in order to reach a decision or to exchange ideas.

So quickly we find that this meeting, this second round of consultation is not consulting at all, but rather a safety value releasing after thought. To consult, to have discussions, means to talk and take advice, to consult BEFORE undertaking a course of action. Any other usage of this word is a type of spin.

The meeting at the Copping Hall was held on a cold windy and threatening rain sort of early spring evening in SE Tasmania. When I arrived at the meeting, the hall was full. I counted over 150 concerned residents before I stopped counting. So when the ABC reports the meeting having some 200 people that would be pretty much accurate. In a small town on a dismal night this is a very strong turnout.

I was in the crowd, but was not given a chance to ask a question. The meeting started with a talk about the structure and form of the C Cell. Then the meeting was opened to questions. And according to the panel of experts only valid, sensible questions would be taken on board to be potentially added to the permit conditions. Of course this begs the question of who gets to decide what is valid, what is sensible. The period of asking questions was limited to only one hour. Many questions were not only unanswered, but were not even raised. I am sure the locals could have stayed longer asking questions. The question time was noisy and rowdy, with frequent interjections from the 'mob' and threats by the experts to stop the question period
sooner. This showed the attitude to democracy, it is no more than a facade, a sham. Democracy, as we were reminded by Donald Rumsfeld, as the museums of Baghdad were being looted, is messy. Democracy is loud
and it is rowdy. Apparently democracy only works for experts when they control the agenda and the time frame.

I was taken aback by the patronising attitude of the panel, of course I should not have been as previous comments from Christine Bell and others spoke of the uneducated, emotional response of the community,
about how the locals have been hijacked by a misinformation campaign.

But on the misinformation front I think that SWS has given as good as they have received. On ABC radio last week Christine Bell said that the plastic layer to contain the waste would be 5mm. Last night it was
agreed that this layer would be only 2mm thick. The panel refused to use the word toxic, always referring to the waste as controlled, and then asking if we (the Tasmanian community) want this uncontrolled waste just sitting around in the backyards of industry. But if the waste is so safe and benign why not leave it where it is. Because it is dangerous and needs to be stored. The meeting went around like this for a while as SWS tried to spin what is meant by the word toxic and controlled.

I personally was annoyed by the attempt to use the slogan of a 'Clean, Green Tasmania' to promote the idea of this C-Cell. Again industry is able to go along creating waste and leaving it for others to clean up, and if you do not roll over and accept what we have come up with, then you (the local residents) are holding back Tasmania becoming a Clean, Green State. To use the phrase of Alan Jones, you are wrecking the joint.

Putting on my old timey radical hat these seem to me to be once again that this is a question of Surplus Value. Things are produced in industry, the owner pays the worker less than he or she produces. For example a person in a widget factory gets ten dollars an hour and is able to make fifty dollars worth of widgets in the time. After taken out other costs and etc, which for the sake of argument let us say equals twenty dollars, so the outlay for widgets is thirty dollars and then the boss gets twenty dollars. This fight for the surplus produced is an important key to understanding much about politics and economics in our modern age.

One of the costs that is not included in these sorts of equations is the cost of cleaning up. We all know of mining companies, timber cutters etc who happily go along making profits and then when the forest or mine is clapped out, they walk away and do not pay for any of the clean up. This Carlton River Hazardous Waste Dump allows the owners of industry to increase the level of surplus value, to increase the rate of profit.

Rather than have the companies pay to clean up toxic material, rather than have industry work out how to deal with waste, the costs can be passed on to the local community and the local government. If, as
local resident and citizens, we oppose this plan to dump the waste onto the community and allow industry to walk away, we are then abused and we are the ones who hinder the economy and the ones who put up the
signs saying Tasmania is closed for business. There seems to be an idea that if industry does not get everything they want than they will close up and go home. But, to use the old slogan, we live in a society, not an economy.

This demonising of the locals as uneducated wreckers is obviously false. If this dump was such a good idea why then did the councils and SWS feel the need to make decisions behind closed doors? Surely if a new type of dump is to be built in Tasmania, why could the Councils have brought in community consultation from the very beginning of the process? This is not a simple thing like making a new park or changing the cost of parking fines. This is a site that will have to be monitored for many years, decades and even centuries. This is a site that, if the worst was to happen, could have very negative consequences for the physical and financial health of the community. This a project unlike other projects undertaken by the local councils.

The Sorell Council likes to use the argument that the pre-existing tip has been running for ten years and has not had any problems. However we are not comparing apples with apples. The one site, the current site takes normal domestic waste, while the new tip will take more hazardous wastes. Also how much does the community know about the current tip, is waste leaking into the rivers? We know that plastic bags are being blown into the surrounding bushland. The people of the area did the right thing by agreeing, by allowing the current tip to be built and operated. The community even swallowed some of the concerns they had, because the residents knew the importance of the site, and how it is helpful to the greater community. Now that there
is a dump built, we see that the council and the company they have set up SWS, is moving to next higher level of hazardous material. Is it not valid to query whether in another ten years the authorities will be
able to say we have a pre-existing dump and no one is complaining, let us (for example) now dump radioactive waste in this site? Now that the Council has lost the trust of the community can we not say that this will not happen?

The residents who have lived with a Class B tip are rightfully upset over this new extension to the Copping tip, as we have been kept in the dark. This extension was sprung on the community in a way that has
decreased trust. And once this trust is broken, insincere apologies and a sham of a consultation process are not enough to fix the problem.

Not being able to speak for the all, my view is that the only course of action is to cancel the permit and to start over again with local citizens being consulted and informed on each and every step of process. If as SWS says this project has been under review and investigation for some ten years why the sudden rush now? Why not spend another six months or so doing the work properly and with proper consultation? I for one would like to see the EPA review other sites to the same level as they did Carlton River site. In talking about alternate sites we are told, conflicting information, as to the sites investigated. Did SWS and EPA simply look over a map and say this site is too far from highways? I would also like to see the site chosen on purely environmental and public health issues, not what is cheap and expedient for industry (the ones who have caused the problems.)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Emotion and Rhetoric

Community opposition to the Carlton River Hazardous Waste Dump must be causing some concern. The Murdoch monopoly owned Hobart Mercury felt the need recently to run multiple articles criticizing the emotional, uneducated,  local hinderers of economic growth. These articles can be seen here: Community raises own voice and When the mob hijacks debate

I had to struggle to contain my laughter at these articles. Much emotion and rhetoric, while criticising and insulting the local community for doing the same. The journalists felt free to conflate various issues in an attempt to create community hostility. The big three Tees. Towers, Trawlers, and Toxic dumps. (Oh how the tabloids love alliteration.)

To join the very real concerns over the Able Tasman with the concerns of a small group in Glenorchy who do not want a mobile tower in their area is a wrong headed equation which attempts to raise the NIMBY flag, making a mockery of the issues.

The prime mover of this campaign in the Souther Beaches region was the lack of consultation and engagement in the early stages of project planning. Community consultation is very important. This can not be overstated. Our dreams of democracy are based on this very idea. The idea of Athenian democracy that we flatter ourselves we follow was based on community input and discussion. The Local Government Association of Tasmania 'recognises that community engagement is vital to the democratic process...' In the Carlton River Dump site project we have had closed doors investigation, followed by a consultation phase which seemed to have included the bare minimum the law allows. Without consultation at the earliest stage of any project the problem then becomes one of trust.

I can not talk about the mobile tower in Glenorchy as I not familiar with the issues involved. But I do take exception to the mocking tone of the author, telling the locals not to complain about poor service. Personally I would be happy to throw away all mobile phones. My phone is 5 years old and I spend no more than $20 a month on the phone. Too many people have been burnt by phone companies offering the sky and giving only large bills and poor service. Too many people have bought into the considered words of experts and find themselves with the shock of large bills, as well as entering the merry-go-round of constant updates and add-ons. But this is not the place for me to rant on about mobile phones. And most likely the topic for another conversation.

To compare the Trawler and the Carlton River Hazardous Waste Unit to mobile phones is, again, wrong headed. Nothing like this Trawler, nor this C Cell have been seen in Tasmania before. Indeed as reported in the Mercury "[The Carlton River Dump] is no run-of-the-mill development." And herein lies the question of trust. If community members, the citizens and electors are not consulted, except within the tight letter of the law, they lose trust in the councils and businesses involved, they lose trust in their betters, in the powers that be. Once trust is lost all the balming words that 'all will be well' are seen through the prism of distrust. In small communities like Copping, Dodges Ferry, Sorell, Dunalley, Forcett and others this distrust is not needed at all. In a way unknown to citizens of large cities like Sydney, in small rural communities we all know each other, and so the need for open and transparent process takes on even greater import.

When a new project is to be developed, one that has never been tried in the state, it is important for the councils to be even more proactive in consulting the community. Or trust is lost. When the project involves possible toxic chemicals the councils have a greater need to engage the community at an earlier stage. This did not happen, consultation was obviously flawed or there would be no need for a second round of community engagement. So flawed in fact, as was reported in the Mercury, that the local member Rebbeca White said she had no knowledge the dump was to go ahead. If the council will not talk to elected members you can understand the communities concerns. Such secrecy does not lead to positive outcomes. Such secrecy leads the community to doubt all the reports issued and announcements made. So again we see that this process has lead to a loss of trust. How can there be trust when one side has information and the other side is told, like Bananas in Pyjamas or The Doctor, to simply trust.

But sadly too many of us have lived too long to take much on trust anymore. We have seen many examples of private companies, local councils, and nation states fail over and over again their fellow citizens. With these failures the citizens are the ones who have to pay the price. It is not like a Senator wakes up on one fine morning and says, 'I know I will ban companies from putting poison into baby food.' No, these laws have to be made because companies have seen fit to put poison into baby food, and it is up to the people to force government to legislate on our behalf. Same with toxic dumps and super trawlers, we are told that all will be well, but we all know from painful experience that careful oversight is required. Unless the local community does this oversight work, who can they turn to? In particular the recent Carlton River Dump has no detail as to what will happen in some thirty years and the dump is filled and 'capped.' Who will monitor the site then? Who is pay if the worst happens? After our recent experience with consultation how can we trust this dump to be safe for an unknown number of years?

I was particularly amused by the words emotion and rhetoric thrown around like cuss words, or school yard insults. For what is a newspaper if not a rhetoric machine? The opinion pages of a newspaper are as interested in shaping opinion, as they are reporting and reflecting opinion. In the same way that the entertainment and style pages seeks to shape our attitude to certain films and books and etc, so do the opinion pages seek to shape public opinion concerning the political issues of the day.

Let us look in detail at one phrase used by The Mercury to promote science and oppose emotion. The locals opposed to the Carlton River Dump are described as an 'angry shrieking crowd.' Is this not an appeal to emotion? Is this not a rhetorical device? It is always nice to get a more or less exact definition of words used, in this instance the word verb (or more accurately and more pedantically participle) shrieking means, 'a shrill, often frantic cry', 'to utter high-pitched sounds or words', and finally 'a piercing sound or words, as an expression of terror, pain, or excitement.' The constant reference to high-pitched may tell us something about the use of this word. It is accepted that deep voices gain more authority than the high-pitched sounds of, dare I say, women and children. Is not Julia GIllard referred to as shrill? A quick goolge search gave me quotes such as 'Julia Gillard's shrill attack on the coalition', 'Julia Gillard [is] becoming more and more shrill', and one last one describing her as 'shrill and aggressive.' And this lovely bit of rhetoric from The Australian 'The invective from Julia Gillard is really disgraceful. Her smart-alecky shrieking across the benches really lowers the standard...' Doing the same with Leigh Sales rather than the PM we find, 'increasingly shrill, 'excruciatingly shrill' (try saying that three times fast after a few tequila slammers).

If the word shrill means high-pitched cry of terror or excitement, is not the Mercury using this word to try to feminise or even to make the opponents of the Carlton River Toxic Dump seem infantile? Adding some science to the argument, according to Dr Paul Carding, speech pathologist at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle on Tyne, a deep voice is seen as 'more authoritative and sophisticated.' So with all this information we can confidently answer the question in the affirmative. Shriek, shrill and such words are used to make the citizens seem like children, or even worse (in our society) as women. Even Maggie Thatcher felt the need to take spin lessons to learn how to deepen her voice.

Just as an aside some of words that are antonyms of authoritative include such words as humble, meek, docile, compliant, passive, submissive, yielding. So the ones without deep voices are the docile ones. Maybe high pitched voices should not be allowed to speak at public meetings?

To more objective, professional and anti-rhetorical could not the meetings be described as angry, vocal concerned citizens. Surely the Mercury could not be saying that the people have no right to challenge the experts? On many occasions the Murdoch press is happy to spring to the defense of free speech in opposing any changes or inquiries into the newspaper business. Do they not want to spread this love of freedom and democracy to the general public. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide if the newspapers are playing cynical games or not.

Many times we hear the need to go back to an older type of education for our children. We hear how trendy post modern teachings in schools have destroyed our children and the future of the nation. Why then this hatred of rhetoric? Surely the teaching of Rhetoric is central to any classical education. Rhetoric, Grammar, Dialectics, add some Mathematics and Rugby and we have the foundation for a good old fashioned English education, the type of which won the battle of Waterloo. We have to ask ourselves, what does the Mercury want? How do they propose to get there? Or is the Mercury, much more than the uneducated hillbillies down Iron Creek way, actually the source of the knee jerk opposition and division they often descry in our community. 

What is rhetoric? From my Liddle & Scott Greek dictionary Rhetoric comes from an old Greek word which means 'the art of speech', and some one who engages with Rhetoric is 'One who is skilled in speaking.' This from the word Rhetor, a public speaker, but also a judge, or an advocate. This raises the idea, hidden in the slogan 'if you don't like Murdoch paper, just don't read it'; the idea that newspapers are a commodity, but indeed a special kind of commodity. A commodity that is at the same time a rhetoric machine, a machine which seeks to use words to try to persuade. Surely the free speech lovers of the Murdoch press are not saying that only they can use Rhetoric in a positive sense, and any dissenting view uses Rhetoric in the negative sense of the word.

One of the many tricks and turns of Rhetoric is to attack the words of their opponents. In this case the 'newly-minted' (a phrase worth thinking about) Greens senator Whish-Wilson is mocked for saying "People aren't interested about hearing about the science or economics of this, they simply don't want the vessel and can't see what good could come of it." Is there any context to this quote? Is the senator speaking in a similar way to the students of apartheid era South Africa, when they would sing, 'We don't need your education?' Could we not understand the Senator to be saying something like we do not want your biased science, we reject the economics which only support the few as opposed to the many? Some people can look at economics and come away thinking that a wage of two dollars a day would be good business sense. However there is much more to be taken into account. The author then goes on the suggest that opponents to the Carbon Price scheme use this seemingly anti-science stance to attack the Greens Party. Is it the place of the Mercury to use their bully pulpit to tell the enemies of the Greens how to fight their battles?

The Murdoch press with their vast power are of course a key element of the 'system' and so will use their power to suppress opposing view points. But as has been seen by the recent events the power of the people, democracy in it's literal meaning, can turn away super trawlers, can stop mobile phone towers, and democracy, cooked up with the right mixture of science, rhetoric and emotion will be able to stop the Carlton River Toxic Waste Dump.

Monday, September 10, 2012

An Imaginary Review

Artist have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is
to change it.

I am not an artist, at least not a visual artist, so of course my
views do not count much more than a hill of beans, a bucket of warm
spit. Well maybe they count a little, as anyone can study - perhaps in
spare time between working and children and the invariable quest for
transcendence, and through patient study understand several of the
received wisdoms about art. One may understand and still be unable to
create art themselves. My concern is to review with having any actual
art works involved. I am not so much interested in 'attacking' an
artist or a single work, or group of works. My wish is to use this
essay as a skeleton. A skeleton that I can flesh out with my obscure,
unloved words. A skeleton I can use to conceptualise a review.

Driving in the car, damp, overcast, drizzle. I heard part of a static
interrupted interview on RN the other day. An artist, a photographer,
had created a series of black and white photos. The works were tidied
up with care, framed and put on the walls of the gallery with price
tags and a catalogue. The smoothness of modernity. The exhibit, as
they were by all accounts accomplished and beautiful works of art, was
a success.

I parked the car in front of the independent bookshop where I work,
and having moved from family car (a penis shrinking Tarago) to shop, I
switched on the radio to catch the end of the interview. I thought
about what I had heard long into the afternoon, as the blue skies of
spring wrestled with the early rising clouds of slow to leave winter.

More than any actual art works, which I had not seen, and most likely
will never see, it was his interview that I was interested in. Here I
am on sturdier ground in my ability to add anything to the
discussion. Specifically I was moved by one small sliver of the
interview. When the artist described her work as probing the
boundaries of art & photography.

The word probe was what caught my interest and prompted this
confessional. Our verb probe comes from the Latin probare, which has
several meanings. Which is understandable seeing how Latin was spoken
for many hundreds of years over the, at that time, largest empire in
the western world. These meanings can in the present context mean To try,
test, examine, inspect, judge of any thing in respect of its goodness,
fitness, etc.

I started to write this is the darkness of night, when windy sleet and
rain pelted down on the roof and windows of the wood fire heated
house. I can also see the word probe having a weaker connotation, in
the sense of an army probing the defences of the enemy. A section of
the army will move forward and test the enemy and gather
information. Usually they are ordered not to launch a full scale
attack. They just move into contact, find information out, and then
pull back into the relative comfort of their trench line.

Others will of course disagree with me, and that is to be expected. I
have a particular point of view, and a particular ideology and way of
seeing the world and our interactions with the world. Many will say
that probing and trying to describe and understand the world is
enough, some will go further and say that is all art can do. In this
they will argue against the idea of didactic art. That art should seek
what it wants and that it has no need to go further.

Again let me reiterate that I do not wish to be seen as attacking any
art works or any artist with this article. What I am saying, and am
happy to say, is that art needs to go past the probing of the
world. As the world moves into a dangerous new era. To paraphrase from
The Will to Power 'For some time now, our whole Western culture has
been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is
growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a
river that wants to reach the end, that no longer reflects, that is
afraid to reflect.'

In short, in prosaic words, we are going to hell in a hand
basket. Never before have we had to ability to wreak global damage on
the planet. We have been able to destroy little bits here and there,
the over farming of Libya during the time of the Roman Empire, the
cataclysm that was Easter Island. Now we are able to create universal
catholic destruction. Gaia is seeking to shake off the poisonous
bacillus that is humanity.

Now is not the time for art to describe the world, not the time to
engage in art works. Now is time for art to stake a claim, to chose
sides and not look back. The goal is no longer to probe
boundaries. Art must become part of the dream factory, the imagining
of a new and better world. The borders are well understood, as are the
false dichotomies of male/female, black/white, right/wrong all of this
is understood. The boundaries are meant to be overstepped, erased. As
the chalk lines after a shouty and hard fought sweaty football match
fade and dissolve into the ground with the rain and dewy mornings, so
should the boundaries of art erode and wear away into the meaningless
dust from which they arose. 

Now the time has come for artists to gather their courage and storm
the gates of heaven.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Dump The Dump

How many trucks, laden with hazardous materials, will drive though the town of Sorell?

On a cold, rainy, typical South East Tasmanian winter evening, I went to Bream Creek Showground for a public meeting concerning a proposed Hazardous Waste Dump in Copping. Copping is a small town about 20 kilometres from Sorell, or some 50 kilometres from Hobart. As I drove in the dark and the rain I thought of the many trucks that will soon  be driving up and down these roads carrying loads of dangerous material to a Class 3 dump.

I first become aware of this plan, like most members of the community, on a lazy Saturday afternoon not too long ago when my partner pointed out an article in the Hobart Mercury. This article reported that a hazardous waste dump was to be built in Copping. Being active in the community, we were taken aback as neither of us had heard anything about this. The article quoted our local member Rebecca White as also
being in the dark about the plan. It was natural that a plan thus sprung would generate a strong community response, as no one likes to be treated like the proverbial mushroom. Public meetings were called. It was far easier for me to find out the time and location of the meetings than it was for me to find information about the
consultation process taken by the local Sorell Council.

As can be imagined when a community is treated in such a cavalier way the public meeting held at the Bream Creek Showground on Friday Aug 31 was very well attended. Several hundred locals turned up with
latecomers having to hover in the cold and wet and darkness around the door. The hall was filled to overflowing with concerned locals. Sadly neither the Mayor, nor the Deputy Mayor was able to attend, as the they were interstate. (What would a cynic make of this non appearance?) The Friday night was an good old fashioned bolshie town meeting, with passions running strong. One thing that struck me as significant was the broad demographic range of people attending. Young people, old timers who had lived generations in the district, families with children, all were in attendance. Support for opposing the dump seemed to come from all elements of the community. Which, if the goal is to stop this project, is a very good sign. For the only way to stop this dump is with committed passion and talents of the local community.

There was a strong current of anger within the crowd. The locals were justifiably upset as it appears the local council had done no more than adhered to the strict letter of the law in informing the community about this project. This was implicitly admitted at the meeting when the champions of this plan agreed to 'pause' all work, and allow a month of public comment and submissions. When asked if this would allow the halting of the dump, the response by the Southern Waste CEO Christine Bell was that this was 'not likely' to
happen. Presented with the fait accompli of already issued permits, this was not well received by the crowd.

The council, did the minimum required by law to meet consultation requirements, but did not in any way adhere to the spirit of democracy. Democracy, taken from the Greek, literally means the power of the villages. In this way we can see that democracy is meant to work best on the local level. One of the important features of Attic democracy was the attempt to equalise the power of the towns with that of the villages. Sadly this support for the local people has been sorely missing in this process. A second month of consultation, while admitting that nothing will stop the poisonous 16 wheeler truck from bearing down on the people of Copping and the wider region, is not consultation at all, but rather a safety valve to try to disperse the locals anger. The usual plan is to try to wear down the opponents and allow for concerns to disperse and for enthusiasm of activists to fade. This second round of consultation is no more than a pretence, it is a way to allow for the communities anger to be vented, to allow a box to be ticked and in the end for nothing to change. If consultation can not work properly at the lowest level of democracy, where council members have strong links with the community, what faith can we have in decisions made by our representatives?

A variety of concerns were raised during the meeting about the project and chosen site. The main concern of course was the safety of the site and the types of waste brought into the area. The experts tried to explain away public concerns with soft sounding words of risk mitigation and independent assessments. While the crowd was in agreement with the need to process waste and to do this is a controlled, green manner, this was overruled by the feeling that this was not the right place to build this dump.

It seems to me to be a risk not worth taking to site such a tip so close to rivers and creeks. The site is only some 100 meters or so from a creek which flows into the Carlton River, and less than a kilometer from the Carlton River itself. As Tasmania and Australia in general is known for wild extremes of weather it seemed to me as if  the experts did not have an answer to the logical question of what will happen in the inevitable 100 year flood when the proposed site would be under water for possibly days at a time. This will happen, as
one of the locals told a story about how he saw this very site flooded on several occasions. If Tasmania is to have a clean green economy and 'brand' how would it look to outsiders to have flood water mixed with
heavy chemicals and other sorts of industrial waste flow into the ocean and pollute the growing aquaculture industry.

What is the community to think of the increase in road traffic? As most of the waste for the site will come from Hobart, there are serious concerns about the routes the trucks would have to take. As anyone who has driven this very important tourist route to Port Arthur knows, once past the airport the roads become a thin dual carriageway. Trucks will have to cross the causeway, past a RAMSAR bird sanctuary, over a pair of bridges that are subject to strong cross winds. Bridges where during storms wind whipped waves of the
Orielton Lagoon and the Pitt Water often break across the bridges. From here the trucks will move through the townships of Midway Point, Sorell, Forcett and Copping, passing Lewisham and Dodges Ferry, crossing several creeks and rivers along the way. The trucks will pass schools, playgrounds, shops, churches, community centres, peoples houses. There are many choke points and dangerous sections of road. With the increase of traffic and very little scope, and even less money and will, to widen and strengthen the road network, it surely is a only a question of when, not if a truck accident will happen. Who then will cleanup? If
an accident was to happen on one of the many bottlenecks in the region, any response would be hampered. What would be the effect on brand Tasmania to have a truck roll, spilling dangerous heavy metals across this most important tourist route?

An interesting point was raised during the meeting. Apparently the Copping area is the most earthquake prone spot in all of Tasmania, with a fault line lurking under the proposed dump site. When asked if this was taken into account no one could say for sure that this was modeled, only that they thought it may have been. Another question that was not answered was the question of what alternative sites where investigated. Having been a public servant for over a decade I understand the importance of getting three quotes for any purchase. It seems to me that this rule should have been adhered to in this situation.

A member of the audience raised the very sensible question of why should this community pay for the sins of industry? Why should profits be privately appropriated, while losses and costs must be borne by the
community? Surely if the owners of the zinc works think this is such a grand plan, they should be only too happy to pay for their own waste management. And if it is so safe why not site the dump on their own

From a purely selfish point of view, as small business owners, how will attendance to our bookshop will be effected if the worst happens and a truck does roll in the town of Sorell? Would customers, and tourists not be scared off for weeks or months? I often take my small children to the local beaches, can I be sure that there will be no pollution in the water? What of the many local organic farms in the region? Any contamination of these farms would be a catastrophe to these businesses.

While not being able speak for the organising committee, it seems to me that the only proper course of action for the various levels of government and Southern Waste is to scrap the process, to cancel the permits and start over again from square one. Only this time our elected officials should follow process, including proper consultation.

During the recent tsunami in Japan, I was struck by a report I heard. Sea walls were built to a height of some eleven meters, this was to defend against tidal waves. The sea walls failed, even though the waves were only ten meters tall. The power of the earthquake was such that the land around the sea wall subsided over a meter, allowing the water to rush over the top and flood the town. This to me showed something very important, nature is immense and humans are puny. Have we not learned our lessons? Do we need to keep making the same arrogant mistakes over and over again? It seems with the Copping dump projects our experts have not learned and refuse to learn.